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Phairly Provocative

Q&A: Liz Phair

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“I guess you want to know about my bisexual past, huh?”

“I AM A FEMINIST, and I define that term for myself: Be yourself, because if you can get away with it, that is a feminist act — that’s like the ultimate.”

Liz Phair is talking on the phone, and it’s evident from her music and her manner that she knows who she is and what she wants. Easygoing and at home with herself, she’s also a polite conversationalist: “Would you be really grossed out if I chewed salad on the phone?” she asks.

A 26-year old from Chicago, Phair grabbed the spotlight last year as one of the brash, radical new female rockers on the scene — a nasty girl singer, in the eyes of some. Her breakthrough album, Exile in Guyville (Matador), was one of the most critically acclaimed releases of 1993, ranking her No. 1 in the Village Voice “Pazz and Jop” poll, ahead of indie faves Nirvana and PJ Harvey.

Although Exile is a thoroughly enjoyable, musical album, it was Phair’s provocative lyrics that caused a media ruckus. With control over her material and songwriting, she articulates her desires and emotions without apology; it’s her strength that people are drawn to. So it is with annoyance that she still has to answer for her infamous, ubiquitously quoted line, “I’ll fuck you till your dick is blue.”

“I’m over it,” Phair says. “It’s been a year now and that’s all anyone has written about. You get the nutshell. Kind of like having roaches: You keep putting out the Combat and they keep coming back.” That part of the music scene she finds oppressive, especially to women — “very white and very straight,” she observes. “I remember the whole rock crowd, feeling that the women there defined themselves by the men they went out with — the band-wife syndrome.”

While Exile speaks from a position of acceptance, independence, and entitlement, qualities that many claim to share, it’s also gotten her into trouble with some of her lesbian friends. “I guess you want to know about my bisexual past, huh?” She snickers, then settles down to explain. “I think I’m pretty much heterosexual. My homosexuality verges from lifelong — I don’t know what you want to call it — fondlingness. To my mind that is very normal.”

“That’s like the unspoken taboo of heterosexual women. People are drawn to instincts somewhere; I think far more women are than anyone cares to admit. It’s bizarre to me, it’s retarded, the lines that have been drawn,” she says. “When I was in my most lusty years at school, when I had a lot of friends that would — like we say — blur the lines with, I had a lot of lesbian friends who would start bashing women that were bisexual. ‘Don’t ever go out with a woman [like that] ’cause she’ll just go back to a man!’ It was almost like the mafia,” she jokes.

Ultimately, Phair’s goal is to be her own, outspoken woman. With her next album due out this fall, and Exile continuing to draw new fans, she sums up: “Whatever my brand of feminism is, I want to be visible and actually marked, to be duly noted. I think every woman right now has that responsibility as a feminist. So that’s my schtick.”

Kristen Kramer is a New York musician and songwriter who has written for the bands French Twist and Ultra Vivid Scene.

By Kristin Kramer
Out, July/August 1994

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